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August 11, 2011

Coach's Corner: Safeties

As a follow up to our breakdown and analysis of the Golden Hurricane safeties, we dive into the mind of Tulsa head football coach Bill Blankenship for his thoughts on his bandit and free safety groups, as well as the current depth-chart at the start of fall camp.

Tulsa returns two starters at safety, but they have actually switched positions with each other. 6-4, 222-pound junior Dexter McCoil has switched from free safety to strong safety, which is called 'bandit' in the TU scheme, and sophomore Marco Nelson moved into the free safety spot.

"The safety spots are a little bit interchangeable," said Blankenship.

McCoil has been a starter since he was a true freshman, and he has matured tremendously over his first two seasons.

"Dexter McCoil is kind of growing into the position," Blankenship explained this summer. "He probably played a little bit earlier than he should have played. To his credit, he's done really well, but he's learned more about being a safety this spring, in terms of not guessing, not putting yourself in a position to give up big plays. He's a big hitter.

"He still struggles a little bit in one-on-one coverage when we have to go man, because he's a really tall guy, it's just tough. He's really gotten a lot smarter in terms of how he manages the backend. I really like him back there."

Working behind McCoil in fall camp is speedy redshirt freshman Luke Snider, who sat out last season due to injury. Depth will be added by true freshman Kwame Sexton from Tulsa (Okla.) Holland Hall.

"Luke Snider had a great spring," said Blankenship. "He's a guy that not many people gave a chance to get on the field, and all he does is make plays. He's a little guy that is really, really fast, but he can tackle and plays really well."

Over at free safety, the Golden Hurricane has three players that will all contribute this season, led by sophomore sensation Marco Nelson.

The 6-foot, 195-pound athlete was a Freshman All-American in 2010, but injury forced him to sit out of spring practices.

"Marco is coming off a great season," Blankenship described. "He was really fun to watch this spring, because he didn't practice. We had several guys with shoulder surgeries, and those are things you just have to protect, but he still went through a lot of the drill work, and he was right there in the backend calling the defenses.

"He had a good mental approach to spring. I really expect big things from him, and he'll grow leaps and bounds."

Another sophomore that obtained valuable experience as a true freshman last season is James Roberson. He has been impressive early on in fall camp, building off of his momentum from spring drills.

"James Roberson had a really good spring," said Coach Blankenship. "He's very physical. He'll get on the field if he just stays healthy. He keeps getting banged up here and there and missed the last few days of spring. Nothing serious, but those are things he just has to fight through. He's a tremendous work ethic guy."

Also battling for time at free safety is junior Trent Wilkins, who has played in 24 games over the past two seasons.

"Trent Wilkins -- there are guys like Trent Wilkins and (center) Trent Dupy that, every year, you just assume people are going to come in and take those spots, because these guys are a little undersized, or they're not exactly the physical specimen that maybe some others are, but Wilkins just kept coming back and showing you why he plays," Blankenship explained. "He's also a great special teams guy, so I don't think you're going to keep him off the field."

"The thing that's exciting is how much good young talent we have in the secondary. With the two quality safeties we have in Dexter and Marco, they give you peace in knowing you have two guys that are the quarterbacks of the defense. But, what I like is that we have guys behind them that are good players. I think we have some depth at the safety spot with quality guys."

Current Depth Chart

SS1 - Dexter McCoil, Jr., 6-4, 222
SS2 - Luke Snider, Fr-RS, 5-10, 180
SS3 - Kwame Sexton, Fr, 5-11, 170

FS1 - Marco Nelson, So., 6-0, 192
FS2 - James Roberson, So., 6-2, 199
FS3 - Trent Wilkins, Jr., 5-11, 200

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